I’ll never forget that day in the doctor’s office, waiting with my wife to hear the results of my biopsy for prostate cancer.
I always included the PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening test in any routine physical because I knew that prostate cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths for men in the U.S., and my PSA numbers had been climbing. To be honest, I didn’t really give much thought to my personal risk of cancer. No one in my immediate family had ever had prostate cancer, and at the time of the biopsy, I was only in my mid-50s. Prostate cancer was a disease that only affected older men.
All my complacency was shattered when the doctor came in and started the conversation with words that would change my life: “Man, you have a lot of cancer in there!”
He then discussed the pathology report, grading scale for cancer (Gleason score), and his prognosis. I tried to listen, but candidly was still reeling from the diagnosis. My only thoughts were “why me?” It didn’t seem fair. I did my PSA test at least every other year. I was not 70 years old. I had no family history.
The next several months were consumed with countless internet searches and appointments with oncologists, surgeons, and radiologists. Information was out there but most of it was highly generic and, in many cases, gave contradictory recommendations. I finally realized I needed to approach this as “my cancer.” I needed to make decisions based on my age, my lifestyle, my family, and, most importantly, the impact on my wife. I started to wrap my head around issues that would have a major impact on my life and my marriage long after the cancer had been treated.
In my case, three years after my prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate), my PSA began to rise again with evidence that the cancer had spread. I went through 40 more treatments of highly focused radiation therapy to combat the spreading cancer cells. I now get my PSA test conducted every three months, as advanced cancer presents special issues that I live with every day.
The good news is, prostate cancer is curable, and there are many options for the best treatment for a man and his loved ones to consider. The message I share now with every man is to speak to your primary care professionals and get your PSA tested. Do not wait. Prostate cancer strikes men of all ages, regardless of whether you have a history of prostate cancer in your family.
Instead of putting off the tests, consider these facts:
A recent survey by The American Academy of Family Physicians revealed that American men are not listening to their doctors. Men’s average life expectancy is 5 years shorter than women’s, and often, it’s related to avoiding the doctor. Shockingly, nearly 1 in 4 men haven’t visited a physician in over a year, according to Men’s Health.
Today about one-half of all men in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes, including prostate cancer. Since we can screen for prostate cancer, most of the time, it can be caught before it spreads to other parts of the body. In general, prostate cancer has excellent survival rates, though death rates are higher in African American men and men who have advanced stage cancer.
Every 20 minutes, another American man dies from prostate cancer. In one year, that’s enough to fill a baseball stadium, according to ZERO: the End of Prostate Cancer. And that’s far too many fathers, husbands, sons whose lives were cut short. In my mind, even one is too many.
June is Men’s Health Month, and June 18 is Father’s Day. This is the time to focus on men’s health. It’s absolutely critical that we work to increase awareness, early detection, and treatment through community screening events, health fairs, wellness education, and outreach activities.
As a father and a husband, let me suggest that you skip buying dad yet another tie this year for Father’s Day. Why not instead send dad an e-card encouraging him to take steps now to improve his health, such as scheduling an annual check-up? For more, check out health resources at Community Health Charities, or get involved with our charities like ZERO: the End of Prostate Cancer or American Cancer Society.
There is nothing wrong with growing mustaches and raising awareness of men’s health issues for Movember. We need that ― but we also need men to take action. I did, and it has saved my life thus far. The best way for any man to say, “I love you,” to his family and loved ones is to do his best to ensure that he is here for the “golden years” and the grandchildren.